My address will follow the classical sonata form of commencement addresses.The first movement, just presented, were light-hearted remarks. This nextmovement consists of
unsolicited advice, which is rarely valued, seldomremembered
, never followed. As Oscar Wilde said,
“The only thing to do with good advice is to pass it on. It is never of any use to oneself.”
So,here comes the advice.First, every time you celebrate an achievement, be thankfulto those who made it possible. Thank your parents and friends who supported you, thank your professors who were inspirational, and
especially thank the other professors whose less-than-brilliant lectures forced you to teach yourself
. Goingforward, the
ability to teach yourself is the hallmark of a great liberalarts education
and will be the key to your success. To your fellow students whohave added immeasurably to your education during those late night discussions,hug them. Also, of course, thank Harvard. Should you forget, there’s an alumniassociation to remind you.Second, in your future life, cultivate a generous spirit.In all negotiations, don’t bargain for the last, little advantage. Leave the changeon the table. In your collaborations, always remember that “credit” is not aconserved quantity.
In a successful collaboration, everybody gets 90percent of the credit.
Jimmy Stewart, as Elwood P. Dowd in the movie “Harvey” got it exactly right. Hesaid: “Years ago my mother used to say to me, ‘In this world, Elwood, you must be… she always used to call me Elwood … in this world, Elwood, you must be oh sosmart or oh so pleasant.’” Well, for years I was smart. … I recommend pleasant. You may quote me on that.My third piece of advice is as follows: As you begin this new stage of your lives,follow your passion.
If you don’t have a passion, don’t be satisfied until you find one. Life is too short to go through it without caring deeply about something.
When I was your age, I was incredibly single-minded in my goal to be a physicist. After college, I spent eight years as a graduate student andpostdoc at Berkeley, and then nine years at Bell Labs. During that my time, my central focus and professional joy was physics.Here is my final piece of advice.
Pursuing a personal passion is important, but it should not be your only goal. When you are old and gray, andlook back on your life, you will want to be proud of what you havedone. The source of that pride won’t be the things you have acquiredor the recognition you have received. It will be the lives you havetouched and the difference you have made.